ATHENS, Ohio – Redshirt freshman quarterback Cooper Rush threw a five-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Courtney Williams with :22 seconds remaining and the Chippewa defense held on to earn Central Michigan a thrilling 26-23 road victory over MAC East favorite Ohio on Saturday afternoon at Peden Stadium in Athens.
Ohio (4-2, 1-1) went ahead, 23-19, on a one-yard rush by Ryan Boykin, giving CMU the ball back with 4:35 on the clock. However, the Chippewas couldn’t gain a first down and were forced to punt. OU returner Travis Carrie muffed the kick and redshirt freshman linebacker Joe Bacci recovered the ball at the Bobcats 39-yard line. Seven plays later, CMU was in the end zone, securing the Chippewas their second straight MAC win.
“That drive at the end is big time against a great team in a great environment," said CMU head coach Dan Enos. "It’s huge for us.”
Rush finished the day with 224 yards passing and three touchdowns with one interception. His 20 total completions went to 10 different receivers.
Sophomore running back Saylor Lavallii set a career high in rushing for the second consecutive week, running for 184 yards on 26 carries. In the first half, he gained yards in chunks, rushing for 131 yards on just 13 carries, a 10.1 average.
Central Michigan (3-4, 2-1) finished the day with a total of 208 yards rushing against an Ohio defense that entered the game allowing only an average of 126 per game.
The CMU defense also did its part, forcing four turnovers, including two interceptions of Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton.
After Ohio opened the scoring with a field goal, CMU got on the board late in the first quarter when Rush lofted a perfect pass into the corner of the end zone to senior tight end Connor Odykirk for a 17-yard touchdown.
Redshirt freshman kicker Ron Coluzzi extended CMU’s lead to 10-3 in the second quarter with 27-yard field goal. A 38-yard rush by Lavallii highlighted Central’s 47-yard drive.
The Chippewa defense thwarted three consecutive Ohio drives in the second quarter with turnovers, beginning with a forced fumble of Matt Waters by sophomore safety Kavon Frazier, which was recovered by redshirt freshman defensive tackle Kelby Latta.
Frazier again took center stage on the Bobcats’ next possession, recording his third interception of the season and returning it 23 yards.
Sophomore cornerback Brandon Greer ended another Ohio drive just before halftime, picking off Tettleton in the end zone. The interception was the first of his career.
In the third quarter, Coluzzi gave CMU a 10-point lead at 13-3 with a 36-yard field goal, his second of the day. Lavallii fueled the 58-yard drive, recording his third 30-yard plus rush of the game, running for 37 on 1st-and-10 from the CMU 38.
Ohio scored back-to-back touchdowns at the end of third quarter and early in the fourth quarter off two touchdown passes by Tettleton to take the lead, its first of the game, at 17-13.
The Chippewas responded to take back the advantage with a nine-play, 75-yard drive, capped off by a Rush seven-yard pass to Lavallii. The extra point was blocked, making the game, 19-17. A 30-yard pass from Rush to junior tight end Ben McCord on 2nd-and-9 was key to the possession.
With leading receiver Titus Davis on the shelf for the game, Williams was CMU’s top pass catcher, hauling in five passes for 43 yards and the game-winning touchdown. McCord finished with three receptions for 42 yards.
“When one of us goes down, the others are expected to pick up the group," said Williams. "That’s just a given. We had some players step up and make good plays. I give a lot of credit to Lavallii; he did a lot of work out there and a great job.”
CMU is now 22-5-2 all-time against Ohio, including a 10-3-1 mark at Peden Stadium.
CMU will return home for the first time since September 21 next weekend, hosting defending MAC champion Northern Illinois in the Chippewas’ annual Homecoming game. The intradivisional contest is scheduled for a 3 p.m. kickoff and will be broadcast by ESPN3. Central is the last team to hand the Huskies a conference loss, claiming a 48-41 victory in Mount Pleasant in 2011.